It was revealed Friday that the injury which forced Ivory Coast captain Didier Drogba out of Thursday’s friendly against Japan is a broken arm.
Though team doctors have not yet officially ruled Drogba out of the competition, it’s clear that his World Cup is over.
A gentle suggestion for Tulio Tanaka, the Japanese player whose ridiculous flying challenge caused this mess: Best to cancel that post-tournament African vacation.
Drogba is Ivory Coast’s best player. Most would agree that – along with England’s Wayne Rooney and Spain’s Fernando Torres – he is the best striker in the world. On an athletic level, Drogba cannot be replaced.
And that may be the lesser of his talents. The 32-year-old has become a symbol of reconciliation and a prime mover for peace inside his home country and throughout Africa.
Born into one of the most fractious and violent nations on Earth, Drogba once healed Ivory Coast’s divisions by asking.
After his team qualified for the last World Cup in Germany, in October, 2005, Drogba stunned the nation with a post-match plea. As live television cameras rolled amid celebrations in the Ivorian dressing room, Drogba asked for a microphone and dropped to his knees.
Following five years of continuous guerrilla war, he begged the nation’s rebel faction to stop fighting. Within a week, they did.
“It was just something I did instinctively,” he told London’s Telegraph later. “All the players hated what was happening to our country and reaching the World Cup was the perfect emotional wave on which to ride.”
Two years later, when the negotiations between the government and the rebels stalled, Drogba had another idea. He proposed that the Ivorian national team play a match in the rebel stronghold of Bouake. He did not consult the government. He presented the idea publicly as a fait accompli. Nobody dared to contradict him.
The prime minister came along with the team. Before the match, Drogba presented him with a pair of cleats emblazoned with the words ‘Together for Peace’. Even the rebel soldiers cheered.
Ivory Coast beat Madagascar 5-0. The headline across the nation’s main newspaper the next day read, “Five goals to erase five years of war.”
The credit went entirely to Drogba, cementing both the peace and his own growing reputation as one of Africa’s brightest lights.
This year, Time magazine put him on its cover alongside Bill Clinton and Steve Jobs, citing him as one of the world’s 100 most influential people.
Most expect that once his athletic career ends, he will run for president of Ivory Coast. If Nelson Mandela is Africa’s face, it will likely be Drogba who inherits that mantle.
In the lead-up to the World Cup in South Africa, Drogba’s mug has been plastered over billboards across the continent. He’s a high-profile pitchman for Pepsi and Nike. He’s the guy selling the new Africa to the rest of the world.
Now he’s gone. It seems doubly cruel when you consider that Africa has only three massive football celebrities.
One of them – Michael Essien of Ghana – was pulled out of the tournament days ago because of injury.
The third – Cameroon’s Samuel Eto’o – has been consumed by a juvenile media battle with a former Cameroonian star Roger Milla. Only last week, he threatened to skip the World Cup altogether.
This World Cup is only nominally about sport. The hope across Africa is that this is a chance for a reintroduction, a chance to change the world’s perceptions.
The party will go on. South Africa in particular and Africa in general will still shine for their guests.
But they will have to do so without their most dazzling host.